Rain might force Derby under lights for 1st time

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Handicappers preparing to bet on the Saturday's Kentucky Derby will have to factor a muddy track into their calculations, with the National Weather Service forecasting a 100 percent chance of rain.

The NWS says periods of showers and thunderstorms will produce heavy rainfall, mainly after 10 a.m. By day’s end, between 1 and 2 inches are possible.

Thus, the Derby could be run under the lights for the first time on Saturday. If visibility is poor because of the rain, Churchill Downs will turn on its newly installed lights for the first time on Derby Day.

“It could be blinkers off and lights on,” said Bob Baffert, trainer of the 3-1 favorite Lookin At Lucky and 12-1 shot Conveyance.

The wet weather makes it highly likely that the track will be “off” for the big race, adding another difficult assessment to an already formidable handicapping challenge.

Only eight horses in the Derby field – Backtalk, Devil May Care, Discreetly Mine, Dublin, Homeboykris, Mission Impazible, Paddy O’Prado and Super Saver – have ever raced on a wet track. Of those, Backtalk, Devil May Care and Super Saver won their races, while Mission Impazible was a narrowly beaten second.

Several others have worked out over a wet track, though that experience doesn’t equate with having experienced running on one in a race.

If the forecast holds true, it will be the second straight year that the Derby has been contested over an “off track” — a term that encompasses four separate classifications: “sloppy” (a soupy track with standing water); “muddy” (gooey, but no standing water); “good” (a drying track); and “slow” (a deep, drying track).

Last year, long shot Mine That Bird came from last place to win by 6¾ lengths over a sloppy track at odds of 50.60 to 1.

Banks of lights now encircle the venerable track. They were installed to accommodate night racing during the summer, and are sometimes used for early morning training. They can employed at any time — even for the Derby.

“It is an option that we do have,” track spokesman Darren Rogers said Friday.

There are no restrictions in the race conditions barring the use of artificial light. The first 135 runnings of the classic for 3-year-olds were conducted in daylight. Churchill Downs hopes to continue that tradition when the horses go to the post at 6:24 p.m. EDT.

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